We left the building late into the afternoon. Maria Mater sighed heavily with disgust. “I hate dealing with the heads,” she grumbled as she led Cortex and I to a shaded spot in the courtyard garden.
“At least we don’t have to deal with them again for another year,” I offered, sitting down on the grass. Maria Mater lowered herself down next to me, her joints cracking in the quiet.
“I doubt it. Gemma’s more keen than usual. To refuse her bid will just enrage her.” She leaned back into the grass. Cortex shifted from one foot to the other, having refused to sit.
“I’m going to head back. Tempestatis set up a card game, and I still want in. He said he’s got some great stuff up for wager tonight,” Cortex explained.
Maria Mater waved him to it. “Go have fun.” She yawned as Cortex scurried out of the courtyard. “At least he doesn’t seem all that worried.”
“New box of boots has him thinking of the here and now rather than the there and then. It’s all right.”
“We should get back with him.”
“I’m in no rush.” I could see she was drifting. Her insomnia must have been getting to her recently. Worrying about the meeting with the heads had probably not helped with her anxiety. I could sit and watch over her while she caught up on some sleep.
An hour later and a messenger had arrived from Cortex explaining he had got home safe and that he had forgotten to ask if I had gotten the message he had given Maria Mater at her apartment. I cringed as I headed back to base with Maria Mater in tow. I had forgotten entirely that Requies had a job for me regarding Gemma. I should have talked to her then and there while she was in front of me. What had the Rubrum gone and done this time? Why were they holed up at Requies’s?
These were all questions my left and right-hand men needed to answer quickly. I wanted to return to my small room in the warehouse and go to sleep. Was there any way I could send in Mercator or one of the others? Boss my butt. Some days I felt more like a janitor.
I pushed the heavy metal door open with a thud. Well, talk about convenient. Cortex and Tempestatis had set up with some of my other men to play an all hands-in game of cards in Clavis’s station. At the centre of the table in all its dusty gloriousness was the fabled sealed box of boots. A jar of preserved crabapples gleamed on top of it. A couple mangled tools that could be melted down for metal were tossed in on the pile. Someone was wagering high today.
“Requies in a hurry?” I asked as I walked up to the table and eyed Cortex and Tempestatis’s hands. Tempestatis was going to win, no matter who had what on the table. He’d be smiling in a new pair of boots. If he had the guts to pull them right. He was chewing on his lip nervously, but his face wasn’t his tell. He and Cortex laid their cards down to wait for the others to figure out what they were doing. Tempestatis always had a tell, but you had to be on the right side of the table to see it. He had the only key to the guzzler. He had a bad habit of petting the rabbit foot on the keychain when he was sure he’d win. Amazing, the thing wasn’t hairless.
“He sent a messenger up early this morning. Said three Rubrums been camped up there for five days now. Four days ago, a van arrived, and a trio of people bunked down in the room with the other three, which was over the occupancy limit. He said they’re getting edgy and quarrelsome. So, he went up to ask them to git, and they shoved a shotgun in his face and told him to beat it. He doesn’t want no trouble, and he’s got ‘better paying, more polite customers’ looking to rent rooms.” Cortex leaned back to look at me. His cards were crap, but he had the best bluff of them all.
“And he knows for sure they’re Gemma’s?” I started circling the table. This made the rest of the guys nervous. Always does. Try having a pair of fangs at your jugular. At least this would get a move on. I leaned closer to their shoulders to eye their cards as I circled.
“He swears up and down one of them was wearing her flag on his jacket.” Cortex leaned back to watch me circle. Tempestatis shared a smirk with him as he watched the other men start squirming. One of them folded.
“What does he want done? Just an eviction? Could send Mercator?” I eased to the next player directly across from Cortex, who was having a difficult time repressing a laugh as the man beneath me shifted nervously. “What do you say?” I breathed in the man’s ear. He folded his cards.
“Dammit, boss, that’s creepy as fuck!” he yowled, moving his chair away from the table as I slipped to the next guy.
“I get a note saying that Requies needs help, and here I find you all enjoying a round. Fine, I was running a bit late, but is this something that needs my attention?” I pulled a chair up between Tempestatis and Conscribo, straddling it backwards to watch the table.
“Requies asked for you directly. Said one of the guys that came in the trio was chained.” Tempestatis flicked a glance my way.
“And he waited four days to call me in?” He had my full attention now.
“Said he thought they may have been deserters who had taken one of Gemma’s toys. Said when they told him to beat it that he started reconsidering. Said he had heard them talking about trying to take over Caeruleum territory.” Tempestatis offered.
“Everyone and their uncle wants Caeruleum territory,” I muttered.
“He made it out to be something needing your input directly,” Cortex leaned back from the table to look past Tempestatis. I saw it. He didn’t. I reached for the jar of pickled crabapples as the table went up, and cards turned into confetti in the air. His chair slammed into the concrete, along with the table.
“Teach you to sit in the joker chair.” I cracked the lid on the jar and bit into one of the apples.
Cortex looked up at me in confusion as cards fluttered down around him. “Why is this even still in here? I thought Clavis burned this thing!” he defended.
“You sat on it. How’d you not know you were in that ricketty contraption?” I passed the jar to Conscribo. He pulled an apple out to eat while we watched Cortex pick himself up off the floor. “Looks like ya’ll have to restart this wager for a good pair of boots after I drag Tempestatis and Cortex out to Requies’s.” I rose and brushed myself off of the shop dust.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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